Oakland Warehouse Conversions Are Common: Councilman - NBC Bay Area
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Oakland Warehouse Conversions Are Common: Councilman

City leader Noel Gallo says there are several buildings similar to the Ghost Ship, and the problem needs fixing

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    Oakland Warehouse Conversions Area Common: Councilman

    Oakland city officials say there are dozens of warehouses similar to the one that burned over the weekend, leaving dozens dead. Officials say warehouse conversions such as the "Ghost Ship" art collective are common throughout the city. Stephen Stock reports. (Published Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016)

    Oakland city officials say there are dozens of warehouses similar to the one that burned over the weekend, leaving dozens dead. Officials say warehouse conversions such as the "Ghost Ship" art collective are common throughout the city.

    Officials even admitted knowing there were problems with the warehouse on 31st Avenue, where the tragic fire took place. And they know of other similar locations around Oakland zoned for commercial but where people have taken up residence.

    As fire inspectors climbed over and through what’s left of the warehouse, families and friends of those missing and presumed dead carried flowers and heavy hearts outside.

    Meanwhile, only blocks away from the tragic scene, City Councilman Noel Gallo showed NBC Bay Area several other warehouses where he says similar conditions exist and people live in blighted and unsafe conditions without proper permits.

    "I’ll point them out to you. There’s several like that," he said.

    A lifelong resident of Oakland, Gallo represents the Fruitvale area and lives only a couple of blocks from the warehouse where nearly three dozen souls lost their lives.

    Gallo said the other warehouses are not permitted for residential, just as the Ghost Ship wasn't.

    So why not do anything about it?

    "Well, that’s where we are going to address the issue," he said.

    "So what’s happening is in these areas, they used to be a manufacturing city in these corridors," Gallo continued. "So you have many warehouses that have been converted to live-work spaces."

    The warehouses have been converted illegally without the proper permits and in violation of zoning ordinances," Gallo said.

    "I think it will force us to be more proactive, immediately," he said.

    But in the past, when Oakland code enforcement tried to step in at the Ghost Ship building, they were thwarted. Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city was not able to gain access to the interior of the building.

    "At this time, I do not know the reason for that, and I am not going to speculate," she said.

    One former owner of a warehouse in San Francisco who asked not to be identified told NBC Bay Area when people take up residence in such large spaces, even without the proper permits, it can be nearly impossible to get them out because rent control boards and rules take precedence. And property owners often cannot gain access to their own buildings.

    From a code enforcement standpoint, Gallo believes the city dropped the ball.

    "I think this is a priority in terms of code enforcement, from fire codes to building codes," he said. "Secondly, what do we need at the staffing level? And thirdly, what is the valuation of our current commercial properties that we have here in Oakland where they have turned into live-work spaces or they’re involved in other functions?"

    Another reason the warehouse living spaces have become so popular of late is higher housing costs. Such places offer cheap rent combined with a different set of rules when someone starts living in a commercial industrial space, and it allows these unsafe conditions to exist.

    Gallo vowed to begin working to change all that starting now.